YUBA CITY, Calif. (KTXL) — A former Air Force pilot in Yuba City, who once flew top secret missions, is now riding around in style in his 2022 Chevrolet Corvette, not in secret.
“This is my man cave with my name on it,” said 89-year-old retired Lt. Col. Tony Bevacqua inviting FOX40 to join him inside his top-secret man cave.
Having no college education and never having seen the inside of a commercial airplane, Bevacqua knew his place was in the sky.
He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1952 during the Korean War.
“They called everyone together for an announcement and the announcement was the Air Force wants and needs pilots and navigators, minimum requirement high school grad, anybody interested?” Bevacqua recalled.
He began his gunnery training with the Republic F-84 Thunderjet at Turner Air Force Base in Georgia before being given a top-secret offer.
“I was asked if I’d like to volunteer for something they can’t tell me a darn thing about, and I did,” Bevacqua said with laughter.
Alongside members of the CIA, Bevacqua became the youngest pilot to ever fly a Lockheed U-2 spy plane, a high-altitude jet used for surveillance and reconnaissance that became a major asset to the American military.
His training took place at the infamous Area 51 in the Nevada desert.
“The U-2 was beginning at Area 51,” Bevacqua said. “We weren’t told that of course and knew nothing about an Area 51.”
When asked about the rumors of aliens in the mysterious region, Bevacqua immediately responded.
“Not with me, not a sign of it,” he replied, “I have no reason to believe in it.”
Bevacqua had more important tasks than finding UFOs. He flew several missions over Vietnam and Cuba in his nine years in the cockpit of a U-2, before moving to Beale Air Force in Northern California where he piloted the world’s fastest stealth aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird.
“The wing commander came up to me as I was leaving and said, ‘Hey, you interested in flying SR-71s?’ Hell yes.” Bevacqua recalled.
Even though more than two decades have passed since he retired from active duty, he still has the need for speed, and collecting Corvettes has become a more down-to-earth passion.
“I’ve had a corvette since 1976, at least one,” Bevacqua explained. “I’ve had up to three at one time and at first, for several years, I was strictly into the ‘63, ‘67s series.”
Before his 90th birthday, Bevacqua decided to take on another important mission: Operation ‘Vette for a Vet.
“This is the very first 2022 C-8 that we are delivering, they’re very hard to get,” explained Wheeler Chevrolet general sales manager Jay Park. “I read an article about a 95-year-old in Kentucky receiving his Corvette as a special occasion and I thought, ‘Why not Tony? He’s a very good supporter of the community, he does a lot for Beale Air Force Base and a lot for the veterans.”
Thanks to a few strings pulled by Park and others at Wheeler Chevrolet in Yuba City, Bevacqua now has a sleek new Stingray that seems to go as fast as a jet plane.
FOX40 was there this week, to see him get behind the wheel of his latest ride for the first time.
“I love to fly,” Bevacqua said.
He gets to enjoy yet another new adventure, though a little more grounded than those of the past.
The U-2 spy planes at Beale Air Force Base have been there since 1976.
For his role in the highly classified CIA U-2 project at Area 51 and his service to the U.S., Bevacqua was inducted into the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame.